Funny Games: Michael Haneke Tortures Naomi Watts

  An easy movie to despise but an impossible one to shake, Michael Haneke's brilliant exercise in audience thumb-screwing—a virtual English-language carbon copy of his 1997 Austrian film of the same title—is an act of blatant aggression against anyone who would want to see it. Along with the dialogue, the set design, and the static camera—and the overall sensation of deepening panic—the setup remains the same: Two polite preppie lads (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) enter a bourgeois family's vacation home and proceed to torture the pretty mom (Naomi Watts), well-to-do dad (Tim Roth), and blameless little boy (Devon Gearhart). Once the tormentors begin to address you, the viewer, it's clear that you are their accomplice. Are you going to leave, in a huff of righteous indignation about torture porn? Or are you going to sit there to make sure every blow draws blood? Haneke's blunt-force irony and whip-hand control over the frame, the methodical pace, and the torturous outcome feel as sadistic as anything in "the game." But by withholding the worst we fear (or crave) from view—while finding ways to deliver worse—Haneke means to kill our pleasure in the very thing we theoretically paid to see: zipless, guilt-free, morally untroubled mayhem.

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